Long, largely paper driven procurement cycles have historically defined state and local government. On the technology side, this approach often means buying something, and by the time it gets installed, it’s obsolete. For products with a longer shelf life, a paper driven process means that government purchasers are spending their days printing RFP’s and stuffing envelopes – not exactly 21st century. Interactive Procurement Technologies (IPT) by BidNet is hoping to streamline part of the procurement process by putting more of it online.
“What we’re really trying to do is take a statewide procurement approach to local government,” says Kimberly Cullen, IPT, in an interview with CivSource. “We are moving purchasing from a paper process to an online model, that is automated and helps agencies share services and processes.”
BidNet which is located in Albany, New York has been around since the 1980s, helping purchasers with various parts of the procurement process during the early days of the internet. In 2000, the company launched IPT which is meant to help government purchasers by offering an online procurement system that is free to state agencies and vendors. Currently, IPT operates 15 such systems nationwide helping purchasers in some 875 state and local agencies. Most are single state systems, with the exception of the Rocky Mountain E-Purchasing System which includes both Colorado and Wyoming to account for shared services across both states.
Individual agencies can join their state system for free and gain access to local vendors, look at other RFPs from similar agencies in neighboring cities, and manage their own bid process. “Our system increases competition, because you can view more local vendors beyond those that a purchaser is already familiar with. Before, with the paper process, agencies would send to a list they already had which naturally limits the pool. With IPT, we send an alert out to all the vendors on the system in that state, so companies that might not have known about an RFP before now have a chance to see it,” Cullen says.
For agencies, features include a bid library that houses a record of all of the RFPs, cooperative purchasing options, and surplus auction capability. Documents are time stamped and tracked throughout the bid process, providing an audit trail and improving bid management. On the vendor side, vendors can join the system for free, or pay a small annual subscription to have information tracking of their own. Vendor information is automatically updated, and can be edited by vendors themselves keeping contact information up to date.
“Before, agencies were keeping track of vendor information in-house, we’ve automated that process and improved the accuracy of records. Vendors are also reminded to keep those records up to date so they don’t miss out on notifications they may qualify for,” Cullen notes.
Agencies on the system are fairly diverse and can range from fire departments, government offices, to school districts. Vendors on the system gain 24-hour access to these bid opportunities and get notifications like changes to terms or contracts. Agencies themselves can take more active control over bid management and audit, cutting waste and man hours. Webinars outlining the service are often led by state procurement workers themselves.
“Agencies can do a five-minute RFP online, and focus on making buying decisions instead of manually sending notifications that they would like to. That has been high value for agencies that use IPT. The fact that agencies can look at similar RFPs to what they are putting out, and start taking on more consistency and a shared services mindset streamlines the process. What we’ve been able to do is improve information sharing between government and vendors, and agencies see the value in that,” Cullen says.